1st Reason to Love Public Gardens: Witch Hazel

When you cultivate a plot of land as small as I do, you learn quickly to appreciate acres and acres of professionally landscaped and maintained garden. Today’s adventure was to Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, a  92 acre botanical garden just inside the city limits of Philadelphia. It used to be the summer home of John and Lydia Morris, who left their little plot to Penn in 1932 because they were dedicated to horticultural education. They kindly planted loads of  lovely plants and conveniently tagged them with both common and latin names. (Just didn’t want anyone to think I actually KNEW all this information).

Primavera Witchhazel - hemamelis x intermedia primavera

So there are tons of reasons why I love  botanical gardens. First, my favorite ones all used to be private estates. Part of the fun for me,  I’ll admit, is  to imagine what it would be like to live in the big house on the hill and watch your team of gardeners create and maintain this paradise for your own back yard. A little bit of role-play never hurt any of us, no matter our age.  Second, everything is always just right. The house lines up with the trees which line up with the lake which lines up with the paths.  They look amazing in all four seasons. There are no weeds in botanical gardens. They are just right. Third,  there are just so many darn plants.  I took hundreds of pictures of beautiful things today, and it’s January 31. Imagine what a bounty I’ll bring home in May.

Wintersweet witch hazel - chimononthus praecox

Wintersweet witch hazel - chimononthus praecox

Part of the joy of the “so many darn plants” scenario is that you get to see multiple cultivars of the same plant. The star today was witch hazel, because it’s 28 degrees and it snowed yesterday, but these guys are blooming their heads off. I’m a witch hazel newbie, but according to internet sources, there are three kinds of witch hazel: the North American native  (hemamelis americana), the japanese version (hemamelis japonica) and the chinese witch hazel (hemamelis mollis). The hamamelis x intermedia is a cross between Japanese and Chinese cultivars.  They grow to be 10-20 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide.

Orange Beauty Witchhazel - Hamamelis x intermedia "orange beauty"

But here’s the interesting thing. I googled “witch hazel” and had to really search for information on the plants themselves. The vast majority of the information was about the herbal remedy that comes from this shrub’s bark. This astringent reportedly clears up pimply skin (where was this information when I was in high school?) soothes diaper rash, reduces hemorrhoids (Tuck’s pads, anyone?), shrinks bags under your eyes, relieves varicose veins, reduces pain from poison ivy and oak (two of the less friendly plants native to N. America), heals skin ailments ranging from sunburn to dry skin to chicken pox blisters to bruises, and provides an important ingredient (along with a good amount of vodka, interestingly enough) for making your own deodorant. An impressive list without a doubt.

Lansing Witchhazel - hemamelis Lansing

So, if you ever have an occasional breakout, if you have child-birth induced complications (I see at least two listed above), if you sometimes look in dismay at the dark circles under your eyes, if you engage in outdoor activities which  might bring you in contact with poisonous plants, bruise inducing garden tools or the sun: this is the plant for you. (Do I sound like a snake oil salesperson to anyone besides myself?)

Rochester Witchhazel - hemamelis rochester

Seriously, I would love to have the space to grow one of these, because they really do bloom in the depths of winter. And who wouldn’t want to get rid of those dark circles??

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14 responses to “1st Reason to Love Public Gardens: Witch Hazel

  1. Mary Jo Kearfott

    With my vast experience with plants, I have never seen witch hazel in bloom. I have seen it in bottles at the CVS Pharmacy. Thanks for sharing! MJ

    • Glad you enjoyed the pics! You’ve really never seen them before? They have a bunch at the Missouri Botanical Garden too. Maybe it’s time for a trip to Louis Ginter – take Martha Anne out to lunch and tour the witch hazel. Thanks for the comment – Kelly

  2. I have a neighbor with two witch hazels and they are spectacular. I remember the first time I noticed his I was so confused. I could see this brilliant splash of gold (Arnold) but it was way too early for forsythia. Fortunately my neighbor gives me a tour a couple of times a year because he has a wonderful selection of plants. He is an inspiration.

  3. Hi Kelly, all you say about the witch hazels is true. They are the most wonderful additions to any garden. I have two, both are small even though Diane is seven years in the ground here. She is featured in a post today, BTW. 🙂

  4. They are the best and most underused trees in a garden…I’ve Diane and two natives: H vernalis, which is blooming now and H virginiana which blooms in the fall~~My only complaint about Diane is that she doesn’t drop her leaves until after she blooms! gail

    • Hi Gail – I think I may have to do my homework on H. vernalis – I read “Bringing Nature Home” and I swore I’d never plant a non-native if I had any choice. I must not be seduced by japanese/chinese loveliness if there is n.american loveliness that will work!

  5. Thanks for the note Gail – so jealous that you have three. Lucky gardener, you! I’ve been walking around the yard figuring out how I would have to redesign to make room for one – I’m scoping out two potential spots. Woe to the plants currently making a home there!

  6. Hi Kelly and congrats on yojur new blog. Thanks for visiting me and commenting on the Muse Day post. Please join us the first of each month by posting a poem, prose or other musing on your blog then visit me and let us all know so our readers can visit you.

  7. I have several young witch hazels. I am looking forward to seeing them bloom!

  8. I with you in wishing I had room for witchhazel, actually witchhazelS, as I would want three in different colors.

    • Thanks for visiting Les. I know – I do envy those gardeners with acres to play with…I think if I claim any more of my kids’ play area for garden they’ll kill me…but that soccer goal would look so much better with a witch hazel right in front of it!

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